Ambient Noise Level: How Quiet is Quiet Enough?

wil

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Jul 22, 2015
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18db is very quiet - you would need a special device to measure that low. A smartphone will not be accurate.

On another related note, how much background noise does your system add? In other words, what’s the noise level with your system off, vs on? I measure +0.5-1dB with it on. 35dB off -> 35.5/36dB on. Is that good?
I sit 10’ away from 105dB sensitive horns, but have a new crossover on the way which should reduce it further.
What are you using to measure, and is it set to db A or C?
 

Zeotrope

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What are you using to measure, and is it set to db A or C?
I’m using an iPhone 13 Pro with the Decibel X app. Since I’m only interested in the difference, I doesn’t really matter if the actual output SPL is accurate. It’s the delta of 0.5-1dB which I’m measuring. I tried both A and C weighting, it didn’t really make a difference.
 
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Kingrex

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To quiet and it gets uncomfortable for me. I have been in rooms that seem to suck the life out of everything. They were over treated.

I wonder just how quiet an untreated room can get without the same affect. At what point would you sense the earth rumble. At what point is it so below normal it becomes uncomfortable, or shall I say, disturbing.
 

Zeotrope

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To quiet and it gets uncomfortable for me. I have been in rooms that seem to suck the life out of everything. They were over treated.

I wonder just how quiet an untreated room can get without the same affect. At what point would you sense the earth rumble. At what point is it so below normal it becomes uncomfortable, or shall I say, disturbing.
Good points.
How much noise does your system add to the room, ie at listening volume with nothing playing?
 

Kingrex

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Good points.
How much noise does your system add to the room, ie at listening volume with nothing playing?
I have been struggling with phono pre for this reason. I have tried 2 that had glorious tone but a very at the chair noticeable hum. Another was very quiet but did not move me. My Allnic is inbetween. Quiet. A little hum but not distracting. It presents good but far from the best.

I just put a 4.5kVA Torus wall mount in my system 2 weeks ago. I doubt a spl meter would measure the change with the volume muted. It is very apparent the whole when music is playing is far more quiet. You sense it. Its a calm. Your shoulders drop and relax when the music is loud. When I walk away after a session my volume is resting at 2. Before the Torus when I walked away, my volume was probably 10 or 11.

As I think on this, before the Torus in quiet passages there was almost a rumble. It made me want to cringe. I blamed the phono, but that sense of rumble is all but gone with the Torus, so it could be measured as I clearly heard it and now its gone. It makes me wonder if the signal somehow interacts with distorted utility power and creates a new noise in the audible bandwidth.

It would be interesting to measure noise within the music playback. How is that utility noise impacting the way the music presents. If its more dynamic, yet calm and intelligible, something has changed that could be measured with the right equipment. What has changed interest me. I guess it would be technically possible to use my mini dsp , mic and software with digital files and snap a image at a fixed time. Heck, I bet a more accurate way would be probes on the speaker terminal.
 
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Mike Lavigne

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system noise floor management is complicated. (1) it starts with complete elimination of outside noise, including building mechanical noise, and also the effects of ground noise. (2) next is HVAC; you need an air box isolated, low flow, high volume air flow, and -3- 90 degree turns between your air box and the room outlet.....and sufficient air returns. (3) the room has to be quiet, but lively. it should not muffle voices when talking. (4) power grid should be isolated in some form or fashion. (5) signal path well sorted out according to taste. (6) gear decoupling or grounding according to taste. (7) resonance/acoustical feedback eliminated, but life not squeezed out either.

the test for 4, 5, 6 & 7 is whether you can maintain the low noise yet not strangle the musical expression. the goal is not absolute quiet, the goal is that the most delicate musical nuances are alive, and that the space promotes extended listening.

many superb listening rooms are compromised in terms of perfect noise control, but do enough of the right things to allow the nuance to be alive. having a lively room is more important than just a quiet room. we can listen around a bit of noise to hear the good stuff, but if the room is stifled then some of the musical life is restricted. and gear with the objectively lowest noise is not the goal, it's what happens next. does that low noise allow for more musical truth?

but if you can have it all, quietest room, and most musical truth revealed, then that is best.
 

Zeotrope

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My question was more about how much additional system noise is considered world class? I suppose +0dB is ideal; but even my DartZeel pre and amp add 0.5-1dB to the room noise, but with highly efficient horn speakers in a small room. Given the speakers and room, not sure if +0 is realistic- although a Dueland CAST crossover upgrade that’s coming soon should lower the noise floor.
 

Alrainbow

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My room is much quieter than the rest of the house. But I live on wooded acreage, and this time of year the sound of the frogs can be amazingly loud. Leave the bedroom window open and there is a concert going on out ‘round the water feature, so loud it can make it hard to sleep. Even with window closed—but we accept as part of life in the woods. Between tracks with the turntable spinning, with the doors closed, those little froggers can still be heard. No way to turn ‘em off. Another month or two and it quiets down.

With SPL meters, how does one calibrate? I’m never sure what I’m reading is accurate. Are iPhone apps any good for this?
Tree frogs are noisy lol.
 

Alrainbow

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I did a job for a library
it seems books really absorb sound well.
above grade it’s ok
but this place had two sub levels after a cellar and basement
so at 40 feet below it’s spooky silent so silent
I heard my own heart beat if the hvac was off
my own
food digestion
not a good place to be in mentally for me
I later read we need activity like sounds
temps changes
or we go nuts
so in my place best I get is about 30db
But it bounces on freqs I can’t hear like very low freq
Now if you play loud I think a low noise floor matters less in some ways. very dynamic music needs a lower noise floor then compressed does
 

Mike Lavigne

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I’m using an iPhone 13 Pro with the Decibel X app. Since I’m only interested in the difference, I doesn’t really matter if the actual output SPL is accurate. It’s the delta of 0.5-1dB which I’m measuring. I tried both A and C weighting, it didn’t really make a difference.
the question becomes what is the musical cost of zero db at idle? verses some residual circuit noise?

if the performance result is better by not tamping down the slightest noise, then that is what i desire. zero noise for the sake of checking off the box is counter-productive for the best performance. OTOH if a system building goal is zero noise at idle....have at it....enjoy. i don't listen to my system not playing music. what i want is for that first note to grab me.....and never let go. controlling noise is part of it, but not the whole picture.

i've heard a little quieter circuits than darTZeel, but was not at all tempted to own them.

most visitors to my system remark how quiet it is. so the overall sense is that the music is well served by the low noise floor.
 
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rando

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Sep 22, 2019
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I did a job for a library
it seems books really absorb sound well.
above grade it’s ok
but this place had two sub levels after a cellar and basement
so at 40 feet below it’s spooky silent so silent
I heard my own heart beat if the hvac was off
my own
food digestion
not a good place to be in mentally for me
I later read we need activity like sounds
temps changes
or we go nuts
so in my place best I get is about 30db
But it bounces on freqs I can’t hear like very low freq
Now if you play loud I think a low noise floor matters less in some ways. very dynamic music needs a lower noise floor then compressed does

One man's claustrophobic silo is another's restive pied-en-terre.
 
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Alrainbow

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i must be crazy

I think
the room can be quit but what noise is imbedded in the sound when played
is perhaps more the issue to fix. i think a well made SS amp and pre have a lot less noise
then tubes do
but there is still the source
and if it’s vinyl or tape even more noise
I think a SUT is best for phono.
but the amount of gain is massive
digital like it or not had the lowest noise floor if paired with SS
 

MTB Vince

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May 11, 2019
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To quiet and it gets uncomfortable for me. I have been in rooms that seem to suck the life out of everything. They were over treated.

I wonder just how quiet an untreated room can get without the same affect. At what point would you sense the earth rumble. At what point is it so below normal it becomes uncomfortable, or shall I say, disturbing.

Room acoustic treatments have essentially nothing to do with a room's ambient noise floor. Sound proofing along with mechanical and electrical noise reduction is an entirely separate/independent effort from dialing in room acoustics. @Mike Lavigne's post above neatly details the factors which impact your listening room's noise floor.
 
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Kingrex

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IN the past I always used tubes. I would say, due to equipment issues, not tubes themself, I had noise. With the Dartzeel paired with my First Sound preamp, playing digital, I can turn my volume dial 1.5db beyond my favorite volume level and I hardly hear a hum or hiss. There is a little. But thats ear up to the speaker.

To Mikes point, its so low I look beyond it because there are other more important aspects of tuning to focus on.

MTB, I agree. Room noise and treatments are separate issues. But an over treated room does seem to suck everything out of it. Music as well as ambient noise. Assuming we have not over treated a room, keeping a good portion of the ouside world out is probably a good thing.

Thinking about Alrainbow post, I use to spelunk as a kid. Caves were quiet, but never eerily quiet. Maybe it was us making so much noise. But I wonder how much we actually perceive the earth. There is a lot going on inside the planet.
 

MTB Vince

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May 11, 2019
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Dundas, ON Canada
...MTB, I agree. Room noise and treatments are separate issues. But an over treated room does seem to suck everything out of it. Music as well as ambient noise. Assuming we have not over treated a room, keeping a good portion of the ouside world out is probably a good thing...

I've heard and read that same observation about "over treated rooms" repeated by audio enthusiasts countless times. After decades of keen interest and research into the subject of small room acoustics and the acoustic treatment thereof, I attribute these sort of statements to one of two things. Often the audiophile in question has not heard such a room and is simply repeating what they've either heard or read other audiophiles repeat countless times. Alternatively, these were genuine anecdotal first-hand observations, but when questioned about the specifics of the room & treatments, it becomes apparent this was almost certainly an incorrectly treated room rather than an "over treated room".

Small room acoustics and the tools we use to measure it and effectively address it are complex subjects which are very poorly understood by the majority of us. And I would count 90% of high-end audio dealers, equipment reviewers, and other industry professionals among those with little grasp of the subject. The old adage about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing very much applies here. Worse yet, a substantial number of commercial room treatment products being marketed to audiophiles and home recording enthusiasts as solutions to specific sonic warts are not just ineffective, but the root cause of other sonic complaints. Prime examples would be the many purveyors of "wedge or pyramid" acoustic foam and shallow 1-2" deep rigid fiberglass panel products disingenuously describing their products as bass traps. In actual fact they are effective absorbers of nothing but upper midrange and high frequencies!
 
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Zeotrope

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Mike, you make some good points above.
All things equal, it’s still always better to have a lower noise floor. I’m hoping my new DueLand CAST cap crossover will lower the noise floor by 1dB at the listening position. Unfortunately, at least for me, once you can hear the ambient background noise, you can’t unhear it — and it’s very very low currently: 1dB above the ambient room noise level…
 

Kingrex

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I over treated my room years ago. I had a bunch of insulation I was putting into my attic. I placed it all around my listening room before dragging it up into the attic. It sucked the life out of the room. It almost hurts in an odd way. Like its pulling at your ears.

I also went to a local shop that sells treatments. They have a demo room that was so flat. I asked, is this over treated. The sales guy said the room was set up perfect. Maybe we have different opinions on how a treated room should sound. I guess if your aiming to have only a point source speaker hit you with just speaker information. I seem to like the sound moving around the room in a more realistic to the world fashion.
 
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Zeotrope

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It’s easy to hear a “dead” / over-treated room. It’s not about lack of knowledge— it just sounds lifeless. Unfortunately, most rooms with many surround speakers (e.g., for Dolby ATMOS, etc.) require over-dampening, which kills the life of the sound. You can’t stuff 10+ speakers in even a medium sized room and expect great sound — you may be impressed by all the bass and speakers firing, but it’s not great for music. But that’s off the topic of this thread…
 

Kingrex

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Mike, you make some good points above.
All things equal, it’s still always better to have a lower noise floor. I’m hoping my new DueLand CAST cap crossover will lower the noise floor by 1dB at the listening position. Unfortunately, at least for me, once you can hear the ambient background noise, you can’t unhear it — and it’s very very low currently: 1dB above the ambient room noise level…
High efficiency horns are a challenge if you want super quiet. My friend Howard had horns in the 104db or so range. His electronics were not that good. There was a whole lot of noise. As in loud hum. But darn was the sound magnificent when the music played.

I personally would have spent a lot more time sousing out the noise issues he had. Some of it was tubes and some electronics. I think his phono preamp had a ground issue. Every time he took it off mute to drop the needle the room noise must have jumped 6 db.

Why do you thing a crossover cap will lower noise?
 
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Zeotrope

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Why do you thing a crossover cap will lower noise?

I’ve read several reviews of the Dueland CAST caps that cite a reduction in noise floor as one of the benefits: copper foil + paper is quieter than metallized plastic foil.
“The Duelund CAST external crossovers were astonishingly quiet compared to my stock internal crossovers, which allowed music full of color and life to emerge from preternatural background quietness. The purity of sound gave real dividends in terms of musical nuance, low-level dynamics, natural timbral textures, and vivid chordal tonal colors, that made the music breathe with life and emotion during listening sessions.”
“The Duelund components in my crossovers made much more of a performance improvement than I had thought possible, from the increased transparency in the high & low frequencies, to the increased sense of space & articulation in the bass region, to the oodles of natural detail, and their noticeably quieter background.”

I’m sure this is not specific to this brand only, although the DueLand CAST series are widely regarded as the best of the best. It seems to stand to reason that if you replace the stock/cheap crossover components with differently made components, noise will decrease.
After proper room treatment, crossover upgrades are the next most important change we can make, in my opinion. Of course, neither are as sexy as buying a new piece of gear or a new speaker…
 

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